Heading off in the right direction

The Railfuture analysis, part 8

Undoubtedly the impact of HS1 upon Kent was minimised by the choice of route. Most significantly, running the rail line close to the M2 and M20 motorways for much of its distance has reduced the noise and visual impact, since the immediate vicinity of the line was already badly blighted in these ways. Unfortunately, when HS2 Ltd came to design the route for Phase 1 of HS2 this important lesson appears to have been forgotten. The designers found it far more convenient to propose blasting a totally new route corridor across what was, for the most part, virgin countryside.

In its submission to the HS2 public consultation rail campaign group Railfuture reminds the Government that the impacts of a new high speed railway northwards from London could be minimised by copying the HS1 example and “following existing transportation corridors, in particular motorways such as the M1 and M6 which are generally constructed to a sufficiently straight alignment to permit parallel railway construction for 300/320 kmh”. According to Railfuture:

“The environmental intrusion of the motorway – noise, atmospheric and visual – is already an established fact, and the marginal intrusion of the new high-speed railway will be almost insignificant by comparison. Moreover, the presence and nuisance of the motorway for over 50 years has discouraged adjacent residential development, and this creates the required clear corridor for high-speed rail construction.”

Railfuture identifies the M1 corridor as “the optimum northward route for a high-speed line from London”. It opines that “the route selection process employed by HS2 has failed to give proper consideration to the potential of the M1 corridor” and attributes this to the “early determination upon the chosen Chiltern-aligned route that is proposed for HS2”. This echoes the criticism that I report in my blog Making the right choices (posted 25 Feb 2013) that, “less damaging alternatives have been dismissed far too readily by the Government on the basis of bad advice from HS2 Ltd”.

The picture that Railfuture paints of its proposed alternative route is attractive:

“Railfuture’s review of an M1/M6 route from London to Birmingham indicates a generally clear corridor for construction alongside the motorway, with little if any impact on residential property outside London. The presence of the Luton/Dunstable conurbation is noted, but this would require a tunnel of only 4km well beneath the urban settlement. In other areas, 3km of tunnelling would be required at Mill Hill, and 3km to pass under the Hampstead Ridge between West Hampstead and Chalk Farm/Primrose Hill, at the top of the broad incline down to Euston terminus. This establishes a total tunnelled length of 10km as against HS2’s overall requirement for 20km between London and Birmingham.” (see footnote)

The M1 appears to be almost tailor-made for high speed rail:

“A high-speed line, designed for any realistic speed aspiration, can be established along the M1 corridor mostly on a ‘virtual hard shoulder’ alignment, without much deviation. It should be noted that for most of its length between London (near Elstree) and Rugby, the M1 conforms to a broadly straight alignment, with only one significant curve (near Watford Gap) that would cause significant deviation outside the immediate motorway corridor, and none that would cause unacceptable impact on residential property.”

And should deliver significant benefits:

“The easier terrain along the M1 corridor requires less heavy engineering, a much lower requirement for land-take, with the possibility of shared earthworks between motorway and high-speed line, and generally only marginal additional intrusion beyond that already created by the motorway.”

But what Railfuture is suggesting is not just a different route, but a fundamentally different approach to providing a high speed rail network in the United Kingdom, with the emphasis on “network”:

“It should be emphasised that the M1/M6 corridor has in recent decades comprised the primary transport corridor from London to the Midlands and the north, and then by other routes to Scotland, and it seems reasonable to infer that the same logic might apply for high-speed rail, with a London to Birmingham route deviating from an M1-aligned Anglo-Scottish spine in the Rugby area. The major communities aligned with the M1 corridor, such as Luton, Milton Keynes, Northampton, Leicester and Coventry, are all of a size to benefit significantly from appropriate integrated development of high-speed rail, and could become major hubs in an expanded rail network compatible with wider climate change concerns, especially if a 4-track route is incorporated on the London-Rugby section, to serve the first 3 of these cities.”

As far as I am concerned, this proposal is a winner on two important counts. Firstly, it doesn’t leave the important economic centres of Luton, Milton Keynes, Northampton, Leicester and Coventry out in the cold. Secondly, it recognises that the Y network, as currently proposed, is vulnerable to train path congestion and is proposing a four-track configuration on the most congested section. The HS2 Ltd proposal is deficient in both of these areas.

Sadly, HS2 Ltd has not been as impressed by Railfuture’s proposal as I am. I will look at this rejection, and Railfuture’s counter arguments, in my next blog.

Footnote: The design changes that were made following the consultation have actually increased the length of tunnel required for the London-West Midlands route through the Chilterns. As at January 2012 the route design maps show over 27km of bored tunnel and an additional 8km of “green” tunnel.


One response to this post.

  1. Posted by chriseaglen on March 1, 2013 at 7:54 pm

    Dont believe there is the funding for the full network. There is too much WCML focus. There is the need to use the radial route from London for both ECML and WCML relief.

    No one has the best route but three radials from Birmingham is certainly poor value.


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